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Learn to eat fresh, local and sustainable - June 21, 2012

Jody Wright and her husband, Travis, opened their restaurant, The Shark, more than 10 years ago in Ocean City. Four summers ago, they moved the restaurant to West Ocean City, downsizing significantly. Now, The Shark, located on the commercial harbor, seats 76 in the restaurant. With additional seating at the bar, the restaurant can accommodate approximately 90 customers. The smaller scale has allowed them to realize their dream, focusing on serving locally-grown, locally-harvested food. They work with small-scale suppliers including local, organic farms such as Quindocqua Organic Farm in Marion Station and Chesterfield Heirlooms in Pittsville, which specializes in heirloom varieties which have been grown for at least 50 years and are open-pollinated, without human intervention.

Being situated on the commercial harbor makes it easy for The Shark to partner with local fishermen, too, obtaining the freshest seafood possible. The Wrights refer to their approach as "hyper-local." The resulting menu, which changes daily depending on what is fresh and available, is prepared by Travis, who is also the chef. Their "hyper-local" approach makes them unique. The customers get it. The restaurant is filled with regulars. Ocean City locals often cite The Shark as one of their favorite places to dine.

The Wrights have a relationship with their customers and with their suppliers. Last Friday, fresh, locally-grown organic squash and zucchini were in a bushel basket out back, waiting to be prepared as the evening's vegetable. Fresh-caught fish was being cut. Drinks were garnished with organic broccoli rabe flowers. The menu includes source information, too, which helps to educate those dining at The Shark. For example, one lunch menu offered an appetizer made with Old Bay cheddar from Chesapeake Bay Farms, curried crab soup with fresh Hooper's Island jumbo crab, Chincoteague little neck clams, lobster rolls made with lobster from Captain John of the Pot Luck boat, and Sword Bites made with swordfish caught by Captain Kerry Harrington on his boat, the Sea Born.

When he's not out fishing, Captain Kerry is often seen at The Shark. You can eat, drink and meet the guy who caught the fish in your delicious taco. Captain Kerry has been a commercial fisher since 1969 and has experience with a wide variety of fishing methods. Currently, he is a longline fisherman, on a boat he built, the Sea Born. That's right, he built the boat. When I asked how long that took, he laughed, and said he owned two other boats during the time his was under construction. I'm guessing it took a really, really long time. It was obviously a labor of love. Captain Kerry was proud to show it off.

Longlining is one of several methods for commercial fishing and makes up only 5 percent of the commercial fishing in the United States. Most fish are caught using nets dragged behind boats including purse seines, trawls and dredges. Nets are much less selective. Selecting the right type of fishing method for the target species is critical. Longliners can sink lines deeper and use circle hooks to reduce bycatch, the catch of unwanted species.

Captain Kerry is very conscientious. He lamented that, sometimes, longliners get a bad rap. One thing he emphasized was that, in all, there are only approximately 35 full-time longliners from Maine to Puerto Rico. He eagerly explained the process, about which I previously knew very little.

Wrapped around a huge spool is 30 miles of 3.2 milliliter, 800-lb test line. He uses only circle hooks, which, when compared to traditional "J" hooks, catch fish by the mouth and, statistically, have been shown to catch more fish and injure fewer of them. Captain Kerry longlines for swordfish, tuna and mahi mahi. In the event that the captain catches something other than his target species, he has gone through training and certification, which prepared him to properly release marine mammals, turtles and sharks. When he and his crew of three are out, they are typically on the water for 5-6 days before returning to the harbor.

He sets approximately 25-miles of line with 850-950 hooks baited with whole squid. Once set, he indicated that if 10 percent of the hooks catch a fish, that's a good day. Generally, the lines are set at night and pulled in sometime in the morning. It's a long, difficult process. The boat is well-equipped. It has a giant ice cooler underneath to keep the fish fresh. Sleeping quarters, a shower and a head are also down under. The boat has a small kitchen, complete with a stove, microwave, and small refrigerator. And then there are the gauges and controls, some of which tap satellite resources, and indicate location, water depth, temperature and more. While regulations have surely impacted his business, he has adapted and continues to earn his living on the water. For lunch, I ate fresh swordfish caught by Captain Kerry.

We should all take it upon ourselves to learn more about where our food comes from. If you eat out, ask your server. If your server doesn't know, ask the chef. If you have time to talk to the supplier, do it. I feel good about eating at The Shark. If you'd like to know more, visit www.ocshark.com. Their website is an amazing resource that highlights the suppliers of the delicious food you're eating.

If you'd like to learn more about sustainable seafood practices, visit www.seafoodwatch.com. You can also download an app for your smartphone. Be an informed consumer.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program works to protect our coastal bays, and our rich, natural resources, some of which we eat. Yum. For more information, visit www.mdcoastalbays.org.

Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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